By: Nick Draper
I was honoured to be invited to give the 29th annual Elsa Goveia Memorial Lecture at the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies on October 16th, and to be able to combine it with two other sessions in the Department of History and Philosophy at UWI: a lecture to an undergraduate class on slavery and Britain’s wealth, and a graduate seminar on the work of the LBS project.
Elsa Goveia (1925-1980) was one of the pioneering historians of the post-colonial Caribbean. She had studied at University College London as an undergraduate between 1945 and 1948, and then earned her doctorate from the University of London. In delivering the lecture in her memory, I was – as a member of LBS based at UCL – thus in some degree representing an institution that was part of her intellectual and historical formation. At the same time, the fact that she had had to go to London to study history at undergraduate and doctoral levels reflected, of course, the complete absence under British colonial rule of institutions of tertiary education not only in Guyana where she grew up but throughout the former British colonies of the Caribbean, an absence that she spent the rest of her life helping to rectify through her work in the establishment of the University of the West Indies, where she was the first West Indian on the staff and later Professor of Caribbean History. One of the three campuses of UWI (the others are at Mona in Jamaica and St Augustine in Trinidad), Cave Hill in Barbados is this year celebrating its fiftieth anniversary, so it was a double honour to be there, speaking in the memory of Elsa Goveia in the year of ‘Cave Hill @ 50’.
The Cave Hill campus itself is an impressive place, with significant new facilities added in recent years and more building underway and planned. It serves not only Barbados but the eastern Caribbean, and I met students from St Lucia, Grenada and St Vincent as well as from Barbados itself. Free tertiary education has formed part of the social compact in Barbados since the foundation of Cave Hill, but that tradition is now threatened by the announcement by the island’s government of the introduction of student fees. How precisely this will be implemented, and how profoundly the campus will be affected, is not yet clear, but there was clearly significant concern among some of the faculty members whom I met about the consequences of such a fundamental shift.
The Memorial Lecture (entitled ‘Compensation for Barbados Slave Owners’), together with the sessions in the Department of History and Philosophy, provided me an opportunity both to describe the work of LBS and to hear responses from both academic and public audiences in a nation and a region whose histories have been so profoundly shaped by slavery and its aftermaths. There was, I think, both acceptance of what we were doing and why, and also a very strong sense that the participation of scholars and students in the Caribbean in the next phase of our work would not simply be appropriate, but essential. This latter point corresponds to what we ourselves believe, and our challenge now is to find ways in which to make this happen.
I would like to thank a number of people for making my visit possible and productive: Professor Frederick Ochieng’-Odhiambo and his colleagues in the Department of History and Philosophy, notably Dr Henderson Carter, Dr Richard Goodridge, Ms Rosita Spooner, Dr Cleve Scott and Dr Sabrina Rampersad; Professor Pedro L. V. Welch, Dean, Faculty of Humanities and Education; and Professor Sir Hilary Beckles, Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Principal of UWI at Cave Hill.